‘My life is good’

1951: Born in Derby, New Brunswick
1969: Graduated from Harkins High School in Newcastle, New Brunswick
1970: Began driving cement truck for Ideal Ready Mix of New Castle
1971: Worked as a company driver for Brunswick Petroleum
1974: Married Roxanne Elizabeth Doran
1975: Son, James, born
1980: Bought a used Freightliner and became an owner-operator for Brunswick Petroleum
1981: Leased to Sunbury Transport; bought a 1981 GMC Astro cabover
1988: Sold truck, worked as a broker relations manager for Sunbury
1990: Bought 1990 Freightliner Classic, leased to Seaboard Liquid Carriers
1993: Sold truck, worked as terminal manager for Seaboard overseeing a 40-truck fleet
1995: Bought 1995 Freightliner, leased to Elite Fleet Transport
2002: Leased to Highland Transport
2005: Inducted as Shriner
2006: Bought 2007 Kenworth T600

Terry Smith has tried the office life. Twice. But each time he came back to the profession he fell in love with as a boy in rural New Brunswick, Canada, when he and his older brother watched tractor-trailers buzz by their house. “I did not like the confinement of the office,” says Smith, who has been a trucker for roughly 35 years, 25 of them as an owner-operator. “Once you’ve been a truck driver, it’s hard to be in an office and run a computer and live that type of life. I truck for the love of the job, not for the money.”

Nevertheless, leased for four years to Highland Transport in Markham, Ontario, Smith now grosses the equivalent of $155,000 (U.S.) a year. “If I could not make $65,000 ($56,000 U.S.) out of that,” he says, “then I’d call myself stupid.”

Smith sits down each week with his wife, Roxanne, to review settlements, budget for expenses and pay bills. The Smiths, who live in Miramichi, New Brunswick, also calculate weekly and monthly profit, ensuring they have cash to cover emergencies.

He leased to Highland Transport in 2002 for bottom-line reasons: The company has a locked-in fuel price. “The price of fuel went through the roof and swallowed companies whole,” Smith says. “I was just trying to make it on the truck, and my fuel bill was killing me.”

Dedication is the key to the Smiths’ success off and on the road, according to those who work closely with the couple. Bill Kalbhenn, Highland’s risk manager, admires their work with Trucker Buddy, the nonprofit group that pairs professional truck drivers with school classrooms. “They have a passion for it,” Kalbhenn says.

The Smiths recently visited their Trucker Buddy classroom in Schenectady, N.Y., and gave each child a Christmas stocking filled with a teddy bear and Canadian chocolates. “Some truckers disappoint kids and don’t commit or never follow through,” Kalbhenn says, but the Smiths always stay in touch and fulfill their promises.

N.M. “Norm” Sneyd, president of Highland Transport, says he could use several employees with the Smiths’ work ethic in his front office, but Terry “would not be as effective as what he’s doing now.”

Terry has served on Highland’s retention committee since its inception about a year ago. The committee is designed to help filter driver concerns and bring them to management. Smith is “a good communicator in that he provides feedback on behalf of other drivers on ways of improving things,” Sneyd says.

For example, a customer’s employees continually dropped trailers so low that Highland drivers had difficulty accessing the dolly legs, Kalbhenn says. Smith heard about the problem from multiple drivers and brought it to Sneyd’s attention, so that calls were made to fix the problem. Smith also suggested drop boxes so that drivers could return their paperwork after normal business hours.

Smith helps reinforce rules that might otherwise be ignored if executives were to do the talking. “If you have a driver who is running into issues, and he needs a mentor, then Terry will step to the plate and help,” Sneyd says.

Smith says he regularly advises fellow drivers about income taxes or spec’ing a new truck. “I get guys saying, ‘My truck is doing terrible mileage.’ And then you go down the road with them and find out they are doing 75 mph and never shut it off.”

Smith thinks many owner-operators fail “because of the way they handle money. They get a $2,000 check, but they don’t realize that money has a place to go. So they buy items that are frivolous.” In the past, Smith spent money on extra chrome or fancy steering wheels he didn’t need, but no longer.

“When you trade in a truck, it’s 10 wheels and a horn button,” he says. “You can have all sorts of stuff on it, but they’ll ask what year is it, what the engine is and how many miles it has.”

Smith trades his trucks every two or three years, having bought new since 1981. He says owning a new truck gives him peace of mind against breakdowns and has dramatically improved his line of credit.

His house is paid for, and he and Roxanne are well traveled. “We can take off whenever we choose,” he says. During the recent holiday season, they enjoyed their second Caribbean cruise.

But the occasional travel bug doesn’t mean Smith is looking to quit driving. “My life is good,” he says. “My health is good. I’ll probably wear out another two or three trucks.”

WHEN ROXANNE JOINS her husband for a road trip, she brings along their toy poodles. The Smiths say Nunu (left) means “precious one” in Chinese and was named by a Chinese teacher who stayed with the Smiths as part of a school exchange program, while Schalen was named for a famed guard dog that kept watch over a historic Irish castle.

TERRY AND ROXANNE met in the ninth grade; she attended a Catholic school, but their first date was at a dance at Terry’s public school.

DO YOU KNOW an exemplary owner-operator with 15 years of trucking experience and an excellent safety record? Write to Steven Mackay, Overdrive, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403, or e-mail [email protected]. Honorees are considered for Trucker of the Year.

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